The beginning of the week was quiet, but I put almost two full days in over the weekend.
With the glass and other stuff out of the back of the Travelall, it’s much easier to start some of the preventative maintenance I’ve wanted to do to the rear frame and crossmembers. Saturday afternoon I lifted the rear bench seat out and pulled up the plywood floor. Then I put on some ear protection, fired up the compressor and the needle scaler, and got to work. Starting from the back I took as much scale off the unpainted metal as I could find, making my way to an area over the rear axle. Then I brushed on Rust Converter to everything I’d cleared and let it sit. I started around 4 and finished when the sun was setting, so there’s still a lot more to do—and I haven’t even touched the underside yet—but it’s already looking much better under there.
Reorganizing the garage a bit, I stumbled across an extra box of weatherstripping and realized it was doing me no good here. So I put it up on Marketplace and got a pretty immediate response from a guy in Washington, who was also interested in my old brake booster until I did the research and learned it would be something like $80 to ship it out to him in Washington. So the windshield gasket is on its way to him, and the brake booster remains in the Heavy Metal corner of the garage next to the old starters, spare Dana 20, and other stuff.
A brake has been instrumental to the plans I drew up for the doors on the seat base, because I wanted to bend a quarter-inch of metal along the edges on the three sides to add structural stability and make it look better. My Harbor Freight brake is woefully unprepared to bend 18 ga. metal at the measurement I need. On Sunday I met up with Bennett over at our friend Brian’s shop to get a couple of projects done. Bennett was there to clean up the carburetor on his Hudson project as well as tinker with Heavy D, which has been sitting there for several months waiting for a windshield replacement. I was there to use the heavy-duty finger brake Brian inherited with the pole barn shop on his property.
I started messing with the brake and putting a couple of scrap pieces through it to learn how it worked and where the sweet spot was. There was only one finger clamp on it, so the first long section of metal I bent didn’t stay still and bent unevenly. I took a break, had a donut, and Bennett suggested looking around the shop for the other fingers. I found them along the back wall and installed three of the fattest I could find, then put another long test sheet through. When those results looked much better, I marked out some new metal and started bending. We had to do some creative adjustment to the brake, because the bending plate was so close to the lever plate it wouldn’t release the metal when I’d bent the second side. This involved unscrewing the plate from the bottom to release my metal, but it worked. After I got two doors bent and test-fitted, I helped Bennett mess around with Heavy D, got it started for the first time in forever, and installed a choke cable before we both headed for home.
Back at the house, I investigated how I could bend the short edge with the tools on hand. I’ve got a cheap wide vise I bought from Harbor Freight back in the day, and after some testing I realized I could bend the width I needed with that and a pair of vise-grips blocked into place, keeping the entire width of the metal on basically the same plane. After making the initial bend, I had to hammer the center sections flatter with a combination of deadblow hammer, wood blocks, and metal scraps. When I had it flat and straight, I welded the corners up, cleaned them up with the flap disc, and trimmed the length of each to allow for the width of the hinge knuckles.
When those were in place, I tacked the hinges in place and test fit the doors; all my cuts looked good. So I flipped the hinges, cut some tack holes in the doors, and welded those into place. If I had to do it over again, I’d have put the weld on the underside, but I think it looks pretty good either way.
So the doors are in place, and next I need to cut and install a pair of stops opposite the hinge side for the doors to sit on. I’m going to wait until the locks come in next week so that I can design around those. I was originally going to cap off that gap in the middle, but now I’m considering adding a plate underneath to make it a shallow tool well to utilize some dead space.
The other thing I spent a bunch of time looking for last week was a hinge of the proper size for mounting the seat to the box. The hinges on the seat base are beefy; the pin is 3/8″ in diameter and the knuckles are thick. I found a lot of hinges with the right pin size but nothing with a leaf the proper length—the interlocking sections of the hinge I’ve got are 1.5″ wide, and most industrial hinges I’ve found with that pin size are only 1″. While I was at Brian’s, I was looking at his scrap pile and found a beefy hinge with a 3/8″ pin and a 2″x2″ leaf—exactly what I had been looking for. I texted Brian about it and he told me to take it with me.
Monday I had off for Columbus Day, so I got back outside and kept rolling. First I cut two hinges down to the right size, trimmed the knuckle widths, and test fit them on the box. When I liked what I saw, I tacked them in and fit them to the seat. With that confirmation I burned them both into place and cleaned up the welds. The plates will get two bolts through the square tube for extra structural support, but I like where things are sitting (literally) now.
Then I got out the needle scaler and wire wheel and continued working on the chassis while I had the rear floor out. Before finishing up for the day, I brushed on some Rust Encapsulator. I’ll finish coat it with chassis black when it’s all ready, but there’s a lot more to go.
Meanwhile, I’ve tried removing old upholstery adhesive on the vertical surfaces with every chemical I can think of and a rubber eraser wheel with no success. Frustrated, I tried a small patch with the wire wheel and found that with a very light touch I could get most of the old crust off without going through the paint to metal—there are a few places where the paint is very light—but it mostly came off with little damage. I was always going to respray the inside anyway, so I’m not worried about patchy areas. It’s nice to have that stuff cleaned up, for sure. I’m going to see if Hobo Freight sells a plastic bristle wheel for an angle grinder and see if that’s more gentle on the paint.
Having spent seven full days on a serious sheet metal project, here are my takeaways:
You can never have too many angle grinders. I’ve got three, and I ran a cutoff, grinding, and wire wheel primarily. If I had to do it over again, I’d have a fourth with a flap disc. The brand is unimportant; two of mine are the cheapest Harbor Freight models sold, and that’s what I’ll buy for the fourth. A splitter block for the extension cord is also key. Making sure the grinding wheel isn’t dull saves a ton of time.
Conversely, Harbor Freight sells a long pneumatic 3″ cutoff wheel which I found to be absolutely useless. It wasn’t strong enough to cut through anything and spent most of the time in the box. However their 2″ pneumatic orbital sander came in super-handy for tight areas.
My Eastwood 140 MIG was absolutely outstanding. It’s an inverter type so it’s easy to carry and move around, and the controls were dialed in perfectly. I’d bought an extra spool of wire but found I didn’t need it, which was a shock given how much wire I was using to fill things. I would recommend this welder to anyone.
My garage is small, uneven, and filled with stuff, so I worked out in the driveway for the majority of the project. I have a plastic folding table which became my workbench, and with an assortment of clamps and cardboard it worked out perfectly.
Having a fridge out in the garage was also key. Cold drinks throughout the day were essential for keeping cool and hydrated.
If I’d had more time, I would have taken the entire dashboard and heating unit out of the truck. I did try to remove the heater, but wound up spilling coolant all over the fucking place, and I still couldn’t figure out how it was supposed to come out, which put me behind schedule. So I re-connected it all and worked around it. It can be done, but I wish I could have done it better.
I don’t have a planishing hammer or beanbags (proper metal-beating tools) but I made do with an old Plomb hammer, a rubber mallet, a deadblow hammer, and Dad’s old green vise. I also screwed a Harbor Freight metal brake I got at a yard sale to the floor of the garage and used that for the larger bends, once I sourced a fat piece of aluminum bar for the backing plate. With those simple tools I was able to bend all of the metal exactly how I needed to. I’m going to have to figure something out for when I need to bend metal to replace the floorboards, as they’re wider than the 32″ brake, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Patience is key. I got carried away with my tack welds when I burned in the main vent sections, and they warped. I slowed down when I did the outer cowl repairs, and had better results. When I do repairs to the outer sheet metal I’m going to have to force myself to slow way down and take my time. This will be especially true when I put the cowl back on—I’m going to have to walk back and forth from one side to the other until it’s all done.
I’ve hung the front fenders on the truck with a single bolt for the last several months, and it makes things much, much easier to pull them off when I’ve got to get close to the engine. I have no idea when they’ll go back on semi-permanently (both of them will be replaced when I can source better ones) but for now they’ll remain temporarily tacked in place until I’m ready to button everything up for a while.
After all of this, I’m not afraid of sheet metal repairs at all—unless they involve compound curves I can’t replicate. There’s a section of rust behind the driver’s rear wheel that I can’t wait to dig into once the cowl is complete. But I would love to fool around with an english wheel and a bender…
I desperately want a larger garage, with a cement floor and a long, well lit workbench.
This project was exhausting. I was gifted with the most reasonable weather I could have hoped for—averaging 80˚ and sunny, with a constant breeze blowing through the yard. If this had been a normal August in Maryland, I’d only be halfway done and in the hospital with heat exhaustion. Even so, I came inside each evening and pretty much collapsed; my watch tells me I averaged about 4 miles of walking and ~8,000 steps a day. I would start immediately after walking Hazel and work until it got too dark to see. Big huge thanks to Jen and Finn for giving me the space to focus on this exclusively.
This was the most fun I’ve had on a project in a long, long time, and I’m very satisfied with how it turned out.
I was away for most of the last week and a half, but I did get some time before we left to rough in the new brake line I was sent by the Scout Connection a few weeks ago. Saturday afternoon after we returned, I got tired of laying around the house and decided to go out and finish welding up the patch I’d started two weeks ago. Overall it went pretty well; I think I would have done it completely differently in hindsight, and I bet I’ll have to go back and cut it out at some point, but for now it’ll hold.
On Sunday I wanted to tackle the biggest hurdle the project has thrown at me so far: bleeding the brakes. I bled the master cylinder and hooked it up to the main lines, then had Finley come out and pump the brakes for me while I opened the line on the rear wheel. When nothing happened where I was, I looked underneath and realized the system was leaking at the distribution block: I hadn’t gotten it connected correctly. So I jacked the whole front end up and got underneath to really diagnose the situation, and after staring at it for a while I sorted out what was going on: I hadn’t tightened the soft line down enough to the block. So I disconnected it at the master cylinder and spun the whole hose to really tighten it down. With that done I hooked everything back up and had Finn pump the brakes on all four corners while I bled dirty brake fluid out of the lines. When I’d gotten that done, I put the wheels back on and lowered it to the ground. Then we did the clutch system and got that bled out. With that, the brakes should be 90% done. I’ll have to re-bleed them at some point in the near future to get the last bubbles out, but it’s enough to stop the truck once I get the clutch issue sorted out. It’s been a long learning process, but I sure hope I don’t have to deal with brakes again for a while.
While I had two wheels off the ground, I took the opportunity to swap the fourth rim to the driver’s front and put one of the original three on the back rear. What I found kind of shocked me: the original rim sits the same distance away from the inner edge of the wheel tub as the new rim did. The only difference between the new rim and the others is that the holes for the wheel studs are thicker and the studs don’t extend through as far as the others, which means there isn’t as much of the lug nut on the stud. I think I’m going to invest in a set of ET (extra thread) lug nuts for the whole truck—I just need to find someone who has 5 left-turn nuts in the size I need.